Govt. Employees Petition Supreme Court to Hear Case on Forced Union Dues

Published July 31, 2017

Mark Janus, an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, joined several fellow government employees in filing a lawsuit in 2015 to end the state’s so-called “fair-share” law.

“To keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME], a public employee union that claims to ‘represent’ me,” Janus said in a statement. “I’m filing this case on behalf of all government employees who want to serve their community or their state without having to pay a union first.”

First Amendment Issue

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is representing the plaintiffs in Janus v. AFSCME. The plaintiffs filed a petition in June asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation argues forced union dues violate government employees’ First Amendment rights. With Janus, plaintiffs seek to overturn a 1997 ruling (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) which upheld mandatory union fees.

Janus is similar to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which the Supreme Court heard in March 2016. The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) filed the latter case on behalf of Rebecca Friedrichs, a California teacher who argued forcing nonunion employees to pay union dues, which funded causes Friedrichs did not support, violated teachers’ rights. In March 2016, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4–4 ruling leaving in place a lower court’s decision in favor of the unions.

Teachers Unions Safe

Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says a favorable ruling for Janus would not destroy teachers unions.

Should Janus be successful, teachers unions will not dissolve,” Sand said. “They will have less political money at their fingertips, and thus will not be as powerful as they are now, however. In some states, like California, they won’t have the same hold over the state legislature, which could open the door for student-friendly reforms. For example, tenure and seniority laws could be eradicated or at least modified. And the byzantine dismissal statutes could be simplified, making it easier to get rid of incompetent teachers.”

‘Free Every Public Employee’

Patrick Semmens, vice president of public information for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, says a win for Janus would be a victory for every public-sector employee.

“Currently, over a million teachers nationwide are required to pay fees to a union just to teach in public schools in their communities,” Semmens said. “A win in the Janus case at the Supreme Court would free every public employee, including public school teachers, to decide for themselves if payment of union dues is a good use of their hard-earned money. Additionally, making membership and dues payment fully voluntary will make union officials more accountable to the rank-and-file members they claim to represent, since they will have to earn dues instead of teachers paying them because they would be fired if they didn’t.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.